COLUMBIA, Mo. – Trees, hedges and bushes…. When spring comes, the impulse is to hand out haircuts.

Correct pruning can help keep your plants’ size in check, remove undesirable growth and stimulate desirable growth. Spring is a good time for tree and shrub pruning for several reasons, says Chris Starbuck, horticulture specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

“You can see what you’re doing,” he said. “Also, the new growth will help cover over the pruning wounds fairly quickly.”

Starbuck suggests a pruning tour of your yard with shears in hand, which will allow you to do small touch-up cuts to trees and shrubs. This is especially important for trees planted within the past two years.

Apprehension often makes homeowners procrastinate on this chore for several years, which then makes the job even more daunting, requiring more drastic cutting. Starbuck says it’s much better to prune a little every year rather than a lot every five years.

But don’t be too hasty to prune your early-flowering trees and shrubs. “You’ll want to wait until right after they bloom to avoid cutting off all those blooms, so you can enjoy them,” Starbuck said.

Late-blooming plants can take hard pruning this time of year because their bloom growth and timing are different.

“They produce flower buds on the current season’s growth,” Starbuck said. “It’s important to study up on your plants a little bit to learn when they bloom.”

You can enhance the look of your plants by making cuts that improve the structural integrity.

“You should be looking for crossing branches, narrow branch angles that are structurally unstable, and branches that are growing toward the center of the plant,” Starbuck said.

Avoid tree topping, which is the excessive and indiscriminate removal of all branches above a certain height, leaving large stubs.

“From the tree’s standpoint, by far the better approach is to cut branches back to where they’re attached to larger branches,” he said.

Proper planning will avoid the need to reduce a tree’s size and height, according to Starbuck. If you plant a tree where it has room to grow naturally, there will be very little need for pruning once it’s established.

Pruning improves with practice. Starbuck said that if you make a mistake, it’s okay.

“It’s like a bad haircut. It will grow out,” he said.

More information on pruning is available from the MU Extension guide “Pruning and Care of Shade Trees” (G6866).